Happiness is elusive.
We have all tried and many continually try to decode the recipe for happiness. We search for happiness in a variety of things; for some it is wrapped in the pursuit of purpose or trying to find fulfilment. A TED talk once put it down to embracing play, others have preached self-care. Some say it is about being present, and savouring each moment. Others have encouraged daily gratitude affirmations and manifestations. Adages on happiness abound, superfood supplements, serotonin boosting activities proposed yet not many people can say they are happy.
Maybe it is all of these things or some of it but the puzzle of finding happiness remains unsolved, because there isn’t one magic solution. Happiness can be subjective and vary from person to person so there is no one path leading to it. What is interesting, however, is how we look for happiness in adverse places and often-times come up short. And when we do find a respite, capitalism swoops in to corrupt and commercialise it.
The adverse impact of tech
It is not unusual to hear people wonder why despite advancements in technology, people around the world are increasingly feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. Which is interesting because I am certain that if we plot a graph on happiness and tech advancement, we will see happiness nose dive just as technology evolves.
The constant connectivity and information overload that comes with modern technology, the rise of smartphones and social media, the pressure to be available and responsive 24/7 has been linked to burnout, stress, anxiety and depression. People are receiving information faster than they can process it. Comparison is rife, so is feelings of inadequacy and inferiority yet expectations are higher as social media continues to preach the perfect idealistic life we should all aspire to attain.
Where the zeitgeist goes, capitalism follows
Our search to find meaning in life, to push back against stress factors and focus on bettering ourselves, ushered in a renewed focus on wellness and self-care. Self care was all about giving yourself love, prioritising our needs and striking a balance between the need to dos — adulting — and want to dos — play, hobbies, nothing — now, self-care has shape-shifted and has gone from being about preservation to being about consumption. Care for self now comes in hundreds of pounds worth of treatments, insta-worthy care packages and a focus on aesthetics. It’s become a chore. It’s become competitive. And it’s become expensive.
This is a repeated pattern. Every time we find a pocket of joy, a way to rebalance a hectic life and shift the needle in the right direction, capitalism sees a profit making opportunity. The hippie culture, for instance, which was all about redefining purpose, was also reduced to a commercial cliche. Marijuana is big business, mindfulness is a workplace routine, and ‘hippie core‘, ‘hippie aesthetics‘, ‘fairy core‘ now come with purchase recommendations of mandala prints, beads, hippy trousers etc. It is no wonder the wellness industry is estimated to be worth somewhere around $400 billion.
Finding happiness in new places leads to neglection of self
Overall, we exist in an ‘Alone Together’ abyss, where though we have greater access to people and information, we still feel very much alone. We are trapped in the claws of increased greed, a culture of comparison and competition, information overload, a distorted reality, unrealistic expectations, the fleeing yet dangerously addictive serotonin boost of social media and all these leaves us always searching for more.
A treacherous cycle is seeking happiness in new inventions, new tech advancement, new ideologies, new responsibilities, a new job etc etc. Doing this only makes the world more complex than it needs to be, exposes us to a barrage of stimuli and, most dangerously, results in the neglection of self.
The notion of laziness is the capitalist’s police. Nurturing the self, taking care of the human form, our emotions, feelings, needs, social interactions, requires time, energy and presence. Researchers speculate that we will die quicker from sleep deprivation than we will from lack of food! Laziness is a capitalism myth and the first step to self care is to pause. Sit down. Lay down. Think about and worry about nothing. Steal time for self. Do nothing. Be less productive
Less is more. It is our job to define and find our version of happiness
Someone once asked ‘how did we get to a state where we need multiple streams of income to survive when we live in a world that naturally provides food and water?‘
This search for more is the thief of joy. If I were to propose a recipe for happiness, it would be about decluttering and simplifying. It will be about banishing the idea that there is something out there that we don’t have that will bring happiness, and instead decluttering our minds, getting rid of worker bee ideologies, the material things, the distorted expectations. Saying no to more responsibilities.
In general, doing less. Ideally we would do nothing, but we do live in a capitalist world and Rishi Sunak did propose diverting money away from deprived communities. So instead, I say do the bare minimum. Do just enough to retain balance and sanity, but not too little to starve.
Featured image: Mike Von / Unsplash